From the writer of: ‘Sicario’ and the director of: ‘Starred Up,’ ‘Hell or High Water’ is a tense crime film which feels like more a traditional western on a first watch, mostly through its great use of its cast, fantastic original score and classic setting. The film being a heavy slow-burn for the most part, as the story builds-up for most of its runtime, eventually leading to its intense climax, which despite being short, does feel satisfying to watch, the entire film overall is truly a brilliant example of a modern-day western.
Plot Summary: A divorced father and his ex-con older brother resort to a desperate scheme in order to save their family’s ranch in West Texas. Robbing as many banks as they can all across the county, while remaining one-step-ahead of the authorities that are hunting them down.
On my first viewing, the film felt very similar to the Coen Brother’s ‘No Country for Old Men’ (which the film seems to be heavily inspired by). As the story is very engaging and surprisingly also has a nice blend of dark comedy mixed-in with a lot of the drama and tension. Not really focusing on action, the film spends more time building up tension and atmosphere. Near the end of the film however, we do see some action, which is relativity well done and does feel very grounded.
Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Jeff Bridges, Gill Birmingham all give fantastic performances here, and keep the audience engaged throughout the runtime, which is even more impressive when you look further into their characters. As I personally feel their characters could’ve done with a little more development, as they do get bits and pieces but nothing really major, and the lack of any kind of character-arc for Chris Pine’s character: ‘Toby Howard’ really irritated me. However, the rest of the writing here is pretty great for the majority of the film.
The cinematography by Giles Nuttgens is one of the better aspects of the film, really utilizing the location of Texas for its isolation and beauty. Usually then switching to more chaotic hand-held camera movement during the few action scenes, which I think works effectively. However, I do feel the cinematography could be improved, as there weren’t a large number of shots I was incredibly impressed by throughout the film. However, interestingly, even though the story is set in Texas, not a single scene was actually filmed there, aa due to State Legislature removing tax incentives, the film was actually shot in New Mexico.
Nick Cave and Warren Ellis are responsible for the original score, which is possibly my favourite element of the film, really adding to the modern western feel the film is going for, as well as backing up many of the more emotional or tense scenes. The soundtrack here is definitely one of my favourite elements of the film, the film however also makes great use of various songs. Having a variety of country songs play over different scenes throughout the film, setting the tone and atmosphere very quickly, as well as establishing the film’s setting early on.
‘Hell or High Water’ is an effective crime thriller and modern-day western, for any classic western fan I would say this is a definite watch. As for more casual viewers, I could see the slow-burning pace being a bit of a turn-off, despite it being used to build tension effectively. Backed up by its great cinematography and original score, the film makes up for its lack of character depth and exciting action in the long-run. Final Rating: 8/10.